Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and its Irish Translator

This spring will mark 70 years since Hitler’s death.  However, his diatribe Mein Kampf (My Struggle) lives on.

In fact, the copyright for the German language version of the book also expires this year.  What to do in light of the fact the book will now be available for publication by anyone has caused some soul searching in Germany.

This dilemma was the theme of a recent BBC4 programme – “Mein Kampf:  Publish or Burn?” produced by John Murphy, who is the grandson of James Vincent Murphy, the first to translate the book into English back in the 1930’s.

James Murphy was born in 1880 in Cork, Ireland. He studied for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College and was ordained in 1905.  Having given up the priesthood and gotten married, he lived in Italy and Germany and worked as a journalist and translator in Berlin.

As an observer of Hitler’s rise, he wrote an early book about him called, The Drama of his Career.  The Nazis were sufficiently impressed by the work that he was commissioned to write a full translation of Mein Kampf.

However, once Murphy had completed the work and left Germany in 1938, the Nazis changed their minds and refused to publish the work or allow him to return.

Desperate to be paid for his work but without a manuscript, his wife agreed to return to Berlin on his behalf to try and get a copy. While the German government was unwilling to release a copy, she was able to obtain an earlier manuscript from a secretary who used to work for her husband.

His publisher managed to sell some 200,000 copies of this work but because of disputes over copyright and other issues, Murphy never received any royalties. When the presses were bombed by the Germans, the company’s presses and book plates were destroyed. As a result, an American translation became the standard version of Mein Kampf in the English language, the The Irish Times reports.

Hitler had dictated the book to Rudolph Hess while imprisoned in Munich after the failed putsch in 1923.  Because of sympathetic authorities, Hitler received a mere five year sentence for treason and served only nine months in relative comfort in the newly constructed Landberg prison, where he was able to entertain guests, work on Mein Kampf, and plan future moves to advance the Nazi cause.

The book was originally written to allow Hitler to be able to pay his legal and other debts.  It never did become a financial success for him until after he became Fuehrer, at which time it became a huge financial success and made him wealthy. The state commissioned countless copies including a copy for every couple upon their marriage.

The Nazi idea was to have it replace the Bible throughout the Third Reich. Senior Nazi officials would display ornate editions on a lectern in places of honor in their offices.  It was forced propaganda that could not be avoided.  With new German translations becoming available soon, the controversy surrounding Mein Kampf is sure to continue.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE